Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reformation Sunday: Battening down the hatches


Today is Reformation Sunday. But it’s also a day on which everyone is holding their breath in anticipation of the coming hurricane. 

Reformation robe
In honor of the day, I’ve got my collar on for the first time in a long time and I wear my academic robe, explaining the difference between a priest and a minister. To oversimplify, a priest is an intermediary, a minister, more than anything, a teacher. My ordination and that of my elders, equal, but different. All a result of the revolution begun by Luther on October 31st, 1517. O that day he would nail his 95Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. 

Needing to raise money to pay for St. Peter’s basilica, the Pope had authorized a new sale of indulgences under the direction of Johan Tetzel who was known to have said, As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs. Luther insisted that  since forgiveness was God's alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.

But he also had another objection. On the moral side of the equation he asked, Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money? He had no intention of leaving the church or dividing the church. But, as is so often the case with questions, once you ask one, it’s like pulling a loose thread. One leads to another. And a whole structure of thought begins to unravel. 

Luther chose  the day deliberately. It was All Hallow’s Eve, (Halloween), the night before All Saints’ Day. And he wanted to call into question the necessity of praying to saints. And the next day, November 2nd, was by tradition All Souls’ Day, a day of remembrance of all those who have died. Because of what Luther began, we now conflate All Saints and All Souls as all of us are saints. And November 1st became the Day of the Dead. 

Luther’s theses led to some very basic radical ideas:
  1. Forgiveness was God’s alone to grant
  2. No mediator is necessary between human beings and God
  3. The Bible should be in the language of the people, belongs to them, not the church...when people can read for themselves, they won’t be manipulated
  4. Our ministries are given to us by our baptism

The issue of putting the Bible itself into the language of the people was itself radical. In essence, it would enable people, in Freire’s terms, to become the subjects of their own histories. No longer subjects in the narrative written by a religious system  of domination and control. And Guttenberg’s printing press, the Internet of the day, made that revolution possible. 

The social and political ramifications of these theological ideas would go beyond what Luther had envisioned. So much to his dismay, the peasants revolted believing that he would support them. And Luther would turn against them, as he would the Jews who he naively believed would convert en masse once he had shown them a Christianity purified from corruption. He simply couldn’t fathom their continued persistence in their own tradition and his response was vehement and vitriolic. 

Luther’s reformation, a faith based in Sola Scriptura, Sola gratia (only scripture and only grace) would open the door to John Calvin of France who took these thoughts further into a church that would be reformata et reformanda... IE, reformed and (ever) reforming... My tradition seems to forget that last part. For Marilynne Robinson,(see her Death of Adam essays) it was Calvin's thoughts that would open the door to humanism.

And just because it’s still Octoberfest, I shared this quote from Luther. 

He who drinks much beer sleeps well; he who sleeps well does not sin; and he who does not sin goes to heaven.

Even though Teddy has created an easel for us to go to the street and collect from people their theses, especially in these pre-election days, concern about Hurricane Sandy, the so called Frankenstorm, sends us into a flurry of preparation.  

This is complicated by the fact that Sanctuary NYC is preparing for their one year anniversary and the visit from  not only other New Thought ministers but also the Mayan Elders from Guatemala with their message about the end of their calendar and the beginning of a new age. 

We’re pulling down ladders, tying things down and trying to tighten anything that could blow away. Taking down our banners, removing debris from the scaffolding, stacking chairs and tables in the back yard.  l leave Marsha on a ladder to grab my Guatemalan clergy shirt and stole to jump into the procession and than deliver a greeting in English and Spanish aware of the activity swirling around outside the building.

I excuse myself from the service and go back out to finish the work. Rachelle is wanting to direct things. Anna and Puppy are intently observing everything. And commenting. I regain focus. Check out Jay’s work in the back. Steve tying down the mini dumpsters left by Woodshed’s recent clean out day. Double check with Jamie and Marsha on blow away details, John R standing at the ready.

In the back of my mind, the small attendance, even with the coming hurricane, gnaws at me. Jeremy’s drum flowing world music fills me with envy, it’s what I always wanted. Back to the job at hand. Thankfulness for this crew. We are battening down the hatches. Prepared as we will be. 

There’s an eerie quiet in the air as I head home. 

No comments:

Post a Comment